During this Lenten season we have been on a journey together. We have traveled in our hearts and minds to Jerusalem. We have covered a great distance. Last Sunday, we finally passed through the city gates. We walked with Jesus through those gates and heard the cries of the people, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus had come to Jerusalem to begin the new “Exodus” He spoke about with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. On Thursday, we will followed Jesus to the upper room for the Passover, then to the garden to pray. We watched in horror as Jesus was arrested. The downward spiral of mock trials and beatings culminated in His crucifixion on Friday. His death and burial are followed by days of darkness and dismay. Then, on the third day, we will gather again to share in the jubilant elation of Jesus’ resurrection.
What a grand, gruesome and glorious narrative! But, is that where it ends? Is this the entirety of the Gospel? For most of us who grew up in church, the Gospel message consisted of the following: Jesus died on the cross and on the third day rose again. In doing this, He paid the price for our sins and if we believe in Him, when we die, we will be raised like Jesus to live in heaven forever. Does that match pretty well what you were taught?
In our final meditation, we will see that the statement above is indeed a major part of the Gospel. But there is another component to the Gospel message that is not so readily taught. This concept was central to the Hebrew understanding of sacrifice and it is spelled out for us in the pages of the New Testament. Somehow this important aspect of the Gospel has been minimized as the centuries have passed. Today, we will revisit this concept in hopes that it will bring God’s great plan of salvation history into clearer focus.
Read Leviticus 16:11-16, Hebrews 9:11-15 – Apply the Blood
In order to understand this fully, we really need to look back at the Old Covenant concept of sacrifice. Of all the sacrifices offered by the Hebrew people, none held more significance than Passover and the one offered on the Day of Atonement. On that day, the High Priest would take part in the ceremonial killing of a bull to atone for his own sins and then sacrifice a goat for Israel’s sins. He would apply the blood of the bull and one goat as sin offerings to the mercy seat in the Most Holy place.
The Day of Atonement was the only day that the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies – a room deep in the temple curtained off from everyone but the High Priest and closely guarded by the Levitical Priests. Note here that the sacrifice consisted of two parts and was not complete until both actions had been taken. First the sacrifice was made – the animal was killed and his blood collected. Second, the High Priest would take the animals’ blood into the Holy of Holies and apply the blood to God’s mercy seat. Both aspects are vital for the sacrificial mandate of God to be fulfilled.
The fact that this Old Covenant sacrifice had to be repeated every year demonstrates its inability to atone satisfactorily for Israel’s sins. But, the final sacrifice was coming as the Old Covenant was fulfilled in Jesus and His ushering in of the New and everlasting Covenant.
Did Jesus’ sacrifice follow the pattern shown to us in the Old Testament, particularly Leviticus 16? Remember, the sacrifice had two components: first, the death of the victim and the collection of its blood, and second, the high priests’ application of the blood to the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. From the Scriptural accounts, it is clear that Jesus died on the cross as the ultimate and final atoning sacrifice. His blood was shed. But, remember, the blood had to be applied within the Temple – in the Holy of Holies. Did this happen with Jesus?
On Thursday night of Holy Week, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the context of the Passover meal. That night He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this in remembrance of me.” In offering the cup of “His Blood” to the Apostles, Jesus was reinterpreting the Passover. He was also foreshadowing His atoning death as the Lamb of God. The next day, Friday, Jesus would be led to the cross and crucified. His blood would be shed there on the altar of wood. In doing this, Jesus fulfilled the first part of the sacrifice – begun at the Table on Thursday and completed at the cross. He said, “It is finished.” His sacrificial death as the Passover Lamb was accomplished – The New Covenant Passover sacrifice had been slain. But what about the second part – the next step in the sacrificial process? Is Jesus’ blood taken to the Holy of Holies and applied? Let’s find out by looking back at Hebrews 9:11.
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
As the writer of Hebrews shows us, Jesus enters the Heavenly Temple and the Heavenly Holy of Holies. Once there, He applies His blood to God’s mercy seat. He does this, not with the blood of animals, but with His own blood! Jesus follows the pattern perfectly. Leviticus 16 deals with the earthly application. Jesus takes His blood into the Heavenly Temple, further illustrating the final yet eternal nature of His sacrifice – “once for all”. What happened once in time is applied for all time through the ministry of Jesus!
Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus, the heavenly High Priest, is there even now, mediating the new covenant. This helps explain John’s vision in Revelation 5:6. Jesus appears, “like a lamb as if slain.” Jesus was the sacrificial victim – the Lamb of God – but He is also the High Priest – whose ministry is that of mediating the New Covenant in the heavenly sanctuary – the ultimate Holy of Holies.
As a young Christian I was never taught the second part of Jesus’ sacrifice. We do a great job of teaching the cross and the fact that Jesus’ earthly task of dying for us was accomplished there. We also focus great attention on Easter and the empty tomb and so we should! But, without the heavenly application of the blood, the sacrifice is not complete. Therefore, the crucifixion, resurrection and the ascension are absolutely vital.
The Gospel is so simple – but, so extremely profound. God has given us glimpses of His saving plan from the beginning, especially through Moses and the Exodus. As we have journeyed on the Pathway to the Passion, we have seen how Jesus is the New Moses who leads us on a New Exodus. While on this New Exodus, He offers us provisions for the journey. A New Passover and Manna are provided for us as we make our way to the Heavenly Promised Land. We also discovered how the earthly Tabernacle and Temple were patterned after heaven and how the Old Covenant Passover and Atonement sacrifices were a picture of the Once and for all sacrifice of Jesus that fulfills both. We have seen that Jesus died and was raised from the dead showing us the pattern and path for our spiritual lives. What’s more we see that He is now at the right hand of the Father mediating the New Covenant as High Priest – applying His blood to the mercy seat. And, one day He will come again so that where He is, there we may be also. This is indeed Good News. This is the Gospel. And this is the Hope that Anchors our souls!
As we move from the Lenten season to the Easter season, this will mark the end of this series of devotions. I pray they have been meaningful to you and your spiritual pilgrimage – all to the glory of God!